Sir Keir Starmer has said it “does not pass the common sense test” that EU nationals who have lived in the UK long-term can’t vote in general elections.
The Labour leader also said it is “not such an outlandish idea” to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to cast a ballot, as he confirmed his party is “looking at” expanding the voting franchise.
It comes after Tory MPs accused him of trying to “re-open Brexit” and “rig elections” in Labour’s favour, following reports he wants to give millions of EU citizens and teenagers the right to vote.
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Speaking on LBC, the opposition leader said: “There’s no plan to reverse Brexit, I don’t know how many times I’ve said there’s no case for going back in.
“We are going to make Brexit work, that’s our absolutely firm position.”
Referring to EU migrants who have lived and worked in the UK long-term, Sir Keir said the fact they do not have full voting rights “feels wrong and something ought to be done about it”.
‘This is where they live’
He pointed out EU nationals can already vote in local elections and Commonwealth citizens can vote in generals.
Sir Keir said: “Let’s take someone who has been here for 30 years, has literally put down their roots here, is married to a Brit and has kids here.
“This is where they live, this is where they contribute, it’s very hard to say you should be voting back in your country of origin, it doesn’t pass the common sense test for me.”
Sir Keir backed “full voting rights for EU nationals” during the Labour leadership campaign in 2020, while letting 16 and 17-year-olds vote was in the party’s 2019 manifesto.
The proposals sparked a fresh backlash on Sunday after The Telegraph reported he was sticking to the plans – which could affect around 3.4 million EU nationals in the UK who have “settled status”.
‘Not an outlandish idea’
The Conservatives said migrants, alongside younger people, are more likely to vote for Labour and accused the party of trying to “rig” future elections.
Tory party chairman Greg Hands said that “no other EU country allows EU citizens who are not their nationals to vote in parliamentary elections”.
Speaking to LBC’s Nick Ferrari, Sir Keir stressed there was no “settled policy” to expand voting rights, but the issue was “being looked at” – and lowering the voting age to 16 was also “going into the mix”.
“They can have babies, they can work, they can join the army, so there are big things you can do at 16 and 17, it’s not such an outlandish idea,” he said.
However, he said proportional representation – which some figures in his party are calling for – would not be a priority for an incoming Labour government and his focus would be fixing the economy and the NHS.
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Sir Keir insisted he believes Labour is on course for a majority in Westminster in the wake of some key battlefield wins at this month’s local elections – despite projections suggesting a hung parliament is more likely.
He said he is “not interested” in a coalition, and reiterated that he has ruled out a deal with the Scottish National Party.
However, the Labour leader suggested he is not closed to a deal elsewhere – and refused to explicitly rule one out with the Liberal Democrats.